Choosing an Accountant who is right for your business

Making sure you choose the right accountant is a critical business decision. In many ways it is similar to recruiting a key staff member – choose the right one and they will support you and drive your business, choose the wrong one and it can prove costly and set your business back.

Traditional methods have tended to focus on simple criteria; for example location or, perhaps, a recommendation from a friend or colleague. But in today’s interconnected world you can cast the net much wider.

However, there are thousands of accountants out there – the challenge is to find the perfect fit for your business.

Here are some of the key criteria that business owners should arm themselves with when looking for a new accountant:

The Business relationship

Challenge your accountant on what they can bring to your business – ask them what their specialisms are and how these can help your business. Be wary if they claim to be a specialised in ‘everything’. Some accountants may be great at tax but poor at designing and implementing business strategy, so decide what is going to be important for you and your business.

Another key criteria is to find an accountant who sees themselves as a ‘business partner’ to you and your company; somebody who is interested and wants to get involved in more than just doing the VAT and company accounts.

Personal compatibility

Do not underestimate the importance of getting on well with your accountant. Accountants may not have the greatest reputation for being the most social and likeable people in the world but make sure that your personalities work well together. If you speak regularly and ‘get on’, a natural trust will form and the business partnership can become very powerful.

Appropriate qualifications

You would assume that if somebody calls themselves an accountant or runs an accountancy firm, they would be qualified accountants. However, this is not necessarily the case.

As a general standard, ensure that your accountant is a member of one of the chartered accountancy bodies (ICAEW, CIMA, ACCA). Their members have to adhere to strict rules operated by their respective institutes, and you also have recourse to complain to the institute if things go wrong.

The right size

This is important. Accounting practices vary enormously in terms of their size: they range from small, one man bands up to several hundred people in the larger practices. Larger practices will likely have all the specialisms covered so can provide a ‘one stop’ shop for your different needs, but you may also lose some of the personal service if you are dealing with lots of different people. Think about your own needs and style and choose the size that works for you.

The right systems

Accounting systems and book keeping systems are changing – there are some great products available now that can transform how your business runs. This is particularly true of cloud based accounting packages which are very accessible to all business owners – ask your prospective accountant which systems they recommend and what advantages the system can bring to your business.

The Extras

Think about where your business is in its lifecycle – are you looking to sell in the future, are you looking to diversify into different markets. Make sure the accountant understands this and ask them for examples of where they have helped clients in similar situations and what the outcomes have been. Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials.

Fees

Fees are an important consideration when choosing an accountant. It is really important to understand exactly what you are getting for your money, so ask for a fixed fee per job and ask the accountant for a detailed quote. Always discuss fees upfront to avoid any surprises down the line. Like most service industries fees vary considerably; bear in mind that the cheapest option may not be the best option – the old adage of ‘penny wise pound poor’ is incredibly relevant. If the accountant is going to add value or save you money, perhaps through tax planning or providing strategic guidance, then factor this in and look at the ‘value’ that the accountant brings and compare this to the fees that they are charging.

How to Switch Accountants

Switching accountants is a very straight forward process…

The simple steps are:

  • Send your current accountant an email or letter informing them that you intend to move (download the template below)
  • Your new accountant will then write to your existing accountant asking for ‘Professional Clearance’. This is a courtesy between accountants and is an opportunity for any issues to be discussed, for example non-payment. As long as no issues exist then the existing accountant will transfer a copy of all of the key records (accounts, tax returns etc) to the new accountant
  • The new accountant will perform anti-money laundering checks. This is very straight forward and involves the client providing photo ID and proof of address.

 

That is it, you are now up and running with your new accountant.

Why do people change accountants? The most common reasons are listed below:

  • My current accountant only contacts me once a year at the year end
  • My accountant is not proactive with advice he gives
  • My accountant is not interested in me or my business
  • My current accountant takes ages to get my accounts done
  • My accountant provides poor value for money
  • My accountant hits me with unexpected charges
  • My accountant and I just don’t get along
  • My business has grown and evolved so we have outgrown our current accountants
  • My accountant wants me to use an old accounting system which is not user friendly

 

Please see the template letter to change your accountant – feel free to copy and paste the template and populate with your details.

…and what they say.

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